Friday, May 12, 2017

Never enough?

Years ago, soon after Amazon released the Kindle, my daughter bought me one.  And later, she was surprised that I was not using that gadget.  I tried my best to explain to her that I am not into gadgets just because they are new and fancy.

Now, it does not mean that I am not a consumer.  I am one hell of a consumer.  A wasteful consumer as much as anybody else.
much of the world’s waste is a product of habitual practices we think normal: driving a car, yes, but taking a daily shower, too, or heating our homes or changing our underpants daily (by 1986, 45 percent of German men did compared to the 5 percent who did in 1966). It has almost nothing to do with individual motives or morality.
I think of my own life, and can easily see how rapidly my consumption has increased.  Take, for instance, clothes.  Back when I was a kid, all my clothes could have been packed into a small carry-on.  Come to think of it, back then most of us kids did not even wear underwear.  I say this with confidence because one of the punishments at school was to stand up on the bench.

One of the old jokes related to this punishment is this:
The teacher asks, "where is Kenya?"
The student has no clue.
The teacher tells the student to stand on the bench.
The smartass student then asks, "if I stand up on the bench, will I be able to see Kenya?"

It was a public shaming--the one standing up on the bench did something wrong according to the teacher and now the entire class and anybody who passed by is made aware as well.  We would giggle at being able to see the bat and balls, if you know what I mean, of the one standing adjacent to us.  Chances are that, now, no urban first grader boy in India ever goes to school without underwear on.  A small change in daily life, but that is an example of daily life consumption, right?

Unlike my six-year old self, whose clothes could be packed into one small carry-on, I will now need a few boxes to pack all my clothes.  And then the footwear!  I have three pairs of work shoes, two pairs of sneakers, two pairs of sandals--in contrast to one pair of slippers (flipflops) and a pair of shoes that I wore to school when I was a kid.  What I had as a kid was itself a great deal more than what my father had--he got his first pair of footwear only when he got to the "First Form"--sixth grade, I think it means.  Until he was eleven or twelve, father went about barefoot like almost everybody else.

My point is that my not having a Kindle or an iPad or whatever does not make me any holier.

From a larger perspective, we need to understand this--it is not anything "American":
Trentmann demonstrates that by the twentieth century, states of many kinds—not just the liberal democracies—regarded consumption as indispensable. Countries such as Britain and the United States set the model: there, the link between the citizen and the consumer was forged tightly. At the heart of the New Deal were ideals of freedom and plenty, understood as mutually reinforcing propositions. But Trentmann seeks to extend the point more broadly, to demonstrate that freedom was hardly necessary to a thriving consumer society. Nazi Germany, for instance, sought to deliver the goods or, failing that, to promise their appearance; German factories continued producing toys and cosmetics until the defeat at Stalingrad. With its canny embrace of consumption, the contemporary Chinese state furnishes another good example. Starting in the late 1990s, China created “a nation of property owners” in less than a decade, a feat that outstrips the record of Herbert Hoover and Margaret Thatcher, the Anglo-American “champions of home-owning democracy.”
I consume, therefore I am!  One of the paradoxes of economic transformation from the old agrarian past.


Ramesh said...

Oh yes, we consume and consume and consume.

Ha ha on the stand up on the bench. When we went for our school some 5-6 years ago, we went to our old classroom and guess what ; most of us wanted to relive the experience of standing up on the bench !

Remember, we were a co ed school. Thanks God for "segregated seating" !!!

Sriram Khé said...

Why would you want to relive that??? Did you also relive the kneeling-down punishment???

hehe, yes, the few times when the gender segregation worked in our favor ;)

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